Labor and birth are unpredictable at best. We never know exactly how or when labor is going to begin. We don’t know how we’ll cope with the intensity of birth sensations, or what we might do if things get complicated. There are just so many “what if’s!” All of this uncertainty can leave a woman feeling anxious and sometimes even afraid of her upcoming birth.

I know these feelings well. During my first pregnancy, I felt like an ostrich, preferring to bury my head in the sand than face what might be coming. I’ve learned a few things since then and I’m happy to tell you today (and three children later), that there are concrete steps you can take to gain a sense of confidence as you approach your baby’s birth.

So, while it’s true that there is no crystal birth-ball to gaze into for a picture of exactly what to expect, the following steps will help you to gain a sense of ownership over your birth and will ensure you are well supported on this journey.

(1) Choose a supportive caregiver. Whether you are planning to birth with an OB, family doctor or midwife, this is the number one way to make sure that your baby’s birth is a satisfying experience. In the throes of labor, you need to feel like your caregiver is on your team, including you in every decision about your care. The way your caregiver relates to you during pregnancy is a good indicator of what you can look forward to in birth.

(2) Don’t listen to birth horror-stories. Labor and birth are not synonyms for suffering. With compassionate care and support, you will find that there are resources to draw from even if things get difficult. Do read lots of positive birth stories, talk to women who had great births. Most of us only ever see birth on reality shows and in the movies. These are not realistic pictures of birth and you need to cultivate faith in this process.

(3) Education. Whether you take a birthing class, or choose to do your own (extensive) research, childbirth education is key to building confidence. Understanding how labor and birth work will give you a great appreciation for your body’s ability to do this! You will also learn about your myriad options and how they might affect the experience you’re hoping for.

(4) Hire a doula (rhymes with “hula”). Doulas are worth their weight in gold. They are the safe place that you can turn to emotionally before, or during labor. They understand when you’re anxious or frightened and they know how to ground you, or get you the help you need. A doula can support you whether you want to birth naturally, with an epidural, or whether you are planning a cesarean birth. However, doulas do not take the place of your partner. They are there for both of you and can teach an out-of-his-element dad how to support you in the moment.

Instead of worrying about things that are beyond your control, take the time to work out the details that are within your grasp. That way, you have the best chance of an empowering birth experience.